Aunt Sassy Cake

This delicious recipe comes from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented by Matt Lewis, Renato Poliafito, and Tina Rupp, and I found it on the website foodbuzz.

Serves 12 to 16.

1 cup shelled pistachios (plus 1/3 cup for decorating)
2 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon. vanilla extract
1 large egg
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups ice cold water
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

Honey Vanilla Buttercream:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoon honey

Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 325° F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Dust parchment with flour and knock out excess flour.

In the bowl of food processor, pulse the pistachios until they are coarsely chopped. Transfer about 2 tablespoons’ worth of the coarse pistachios to a large bowl. Continue to process the rest of the pistachios until they are almost powdery- but not a superfine dust. Stir the pistachio powder into the reserved coarse pistachios. Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt, together over the large bowl containing the pistachios mix. Stir to combine.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, add the whole egg, and beat until just combined. Turn the mixture to low.

In a measuring cup, make 1 1/2 cups ice water. Add the flour mixture to the mixer in three parts, alternating with the ice water, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. For each addition, turn the mixer to low to add ingredients, then up to medium speed for a few seconds until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form (You can do this by hand. Don’t be intimidated, it should only take 2 to 3 minutes). Do not overbeat. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 40-45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the rack and let cool completely. Remove the parchment paper.

Make the honey vanilla buttercream: In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add milk and cream and cook over medium heat whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer with paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool (this takes at least 7 to 9 minutes of mixing) then add the butter; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until frosting is light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the vanilla and honey and continue mixing until combined. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, set the bow over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.

Assemble the cake: Place one cake layer on a serving platter. Trim the top to create a flat surface, and evenly spread about 1 1/4 cups frosting on top. Add the next layer, trim and frost it, then add the third layer. Spread a very thin layer of frosting over the sides and top of the cake and put it in the refrigerator for bout 15 minutes to firm up. (This is known as the crumb coating and will help keep loose cake crumbs under control when you frost the outside of the cake.) Spread the sides and top of the cake with the remaining frosting. Garnish the cake with crushed pistachios and refrigerate it for 15 minutes to it firm up before serving.

This cake will keep beautifully in a cake saver at room temperature for up to 3 days, if the weather is humidity free. Otherwise, put it in a cake saver and refrigerate it for up to 3 days. Let the cake sit a room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.

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  1. Jessie S. says

    Quick question about the pistachios– did you find them pre-shelled anywhere? All I can find near me are roasted and salted, in the shell. I’m not opposed to the few minutes’ work to shell them, but would the saltiness through off the cake?

  2. Maggy says

    Jessie S. I did find pre-shelled, roasted and salted pistachios at our grocery store. I did consider that the salt might throw off the flavor of the cake – considered rinsing them and letting them dry, but decided to just go for it. It must be only a small level of salt because I couldn’t taste a difference.

  3. SJ says

    I am sincerely interested in the honey-buttercream, but I believe the second paragraph of its instructions is flawed. You open a paragraph, forget to close it. Don’t tell where to press the frozen bags of berries (I assume you mean press them against the outside of the bowl?) and the rest of the paragraph doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to me.

    Perhaps you revise the second paragraph for clarity? A little? A LOT?

  4. says

    That cake is a stunner — love the pistachios against the white icing. I have the book and I’m slowly going through the recipes. This will be perfect for my parents’ anniversary celebration. It will be interesting for me to use flour in my icing for the very first time.

  5. says

    I am so happy to have stumbled across your blog and found this recipe! I’ve been trying to find the infamous pistachio cake recipe from Baker’s Explorations ever since I read about it on one of the blogs I follow. It looks like such a beautiful cake. I can’t wait for the next get-together I have so I can make this!

  6. says

    This recipe sounds & looks delicious, but I think it needs to be re-written for clairification. Some of the instructions do not make sense as written.

  7. says

    Hi Pam, my mistake! For some reason after reading in the third paragraph ‘turn the mixture to low’ I didn’t get the connect to the following paragraph was a continuation. After printing the recipe out I saw that everything was just fine.

    I look forward to making the cake in the near future.

    • says

      Living next to the Long Island Sound, Sharon, I don’t have any high-altitude tips. I’m sure if I lived in Colorado, I could be of more help. I did google high-altitude baking for you and here are a few tips on the well-respected Epicurious website. Good luck!

  8. says

    I’m so glad you featured this! It’s the next recipe up for our Baked Sunday Mornings group ( and it’s nice to see how successful you were in making it. It took me a few tries to get the Baked cooked buttercream down, but it is delicious! Looking forward baking this – yours is just lovely!

  9. Sherrie says

    I made this cake on the weekend and OMG it is absolutely delicious. Everyone loved it, and it served 16 with some left over (it’s a massive cake). The honey butter cream was delicious although when I make the cake for our Christmas in July this weekend, I’m only going to add 1½ tablespoons of honey not 3 (it was just a tad too sweet for me). The cake itself was extremely moist, took a while to make but well and truly worth the effort!

  10. Ellen says

    I just made this cake for my step-dad’s birthday and it was a great success! The frosting did not come out as white as indicated in the picture, it was more of a beige color. But the pistachio dusting on top looked gorgeous regardless! The cake was very moist. I added a layer of cherry filling in between but overall, one of the best cake recipes I’ve ever found! Thank you!

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